October 23, 2017

Going the Distance: The Path to Quality BRT in Connecticut

The launch of CTFastrak, the Connecticut Department of Transport’s (ConnDOT) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) brand linking communities around Hartford, Connecticut was inspired after a study tour in 1997 to Curitiba, Brazil made by local officials. Participants in the study tour got to experience riding the world’s first BRT, built in the 1970s. First Transit representatives, who manage the Hartford, New Haven, and Stamford divisions of CTtransit, were part of the study tour. The Capitol Regional Council of Governments (CRCOG), shortly thereafter, recognized the I-84 highway corridor as significantly in need of intervention. CRCOG studied alternatives providing locally appropriate analysis of I-84 for congestion mitigation improvements. Highway widening turned out not to be an option and BRT was evaluated as one of the best alternatives, as it was determined to be both a cost-effective and a technically feasible option to enhance mobility and reduce reliance on driving.

While there were champions for BRT inside ConnDOT from the late 1990s, it wasn’t until 2011 that a political champion emerged igniting over a decade of planning and aligning financing toward implementation. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy was finally convinced to build the project. In the wake of the recession and the need to create jobs, the BRT was a shovel ready project that would be one of the biggest public works projects in the State of Connecticut. Governor Malloy seized on the Federal Transit Administration New Starts funds by offering state matching grants to pay for the $567 million cost in an 80/20 split. His signature led to a series of firsts—the first New Starts funded project for ConnDOT and the first real BRT corridor on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

 

Pivot to Implementation
By 2012, construction of the BRT corridor broke ground on an Amtrak easement to install a fully dedicated 9.4 mile (15.1 km) corridor. Since implementation, the system has increased ridership from an initial 8,500 passengers to more than 18,000 passengers per average weekday, and end-to-end travel times have reduced from 52 minutes down to 26 minutes on the Hartford to New Britain corridor. Zoning changed at three stations to spur development density along the corridor. New developments are now starting to rise at those stations as more businesses leverage the benefits of the CTFastrak investment.

The launch of CTFastrak required hiring and training more than 100 drivers, setting up an operations center shared with CTtransit local and express bus service, and installing approximately 127 cameras along the dedicated corridor. The drivers dock buses within an inch and a half of platform-level stations. The BRT system developed a unique prototype of rubber buffer that allows for horizontal flexibility to prevent any damage to the buses, while maintaining vertical rigidity enough to support boarding and alighting passengers. The platform-level boarding bays have also been aligned in a ‘sawtooth’ arrangement to maximize the number of buses that may queue while maintaining space to pull around each other.

Buses traveling from end-to-end are all articulated (60′ in length) to accommodate maximum capacities. Feeder buses to the trunk line corridor are 30′ in length, and although they do not operate within the corridor are branded as part of the system to increase public visibility and a sense that riders benefit from the BRT corridor.

Today, the CTFastrak corridor includes ten high quality stations with passing lanes at all but East Main Street, where stations are staggered to accommodate pick-up and drop-off in both directions. The system operates four express and five local routes, and includes a multi-use trail for bicycling and walking, with bicycle parking racks located at each station and two-front loading racks on all buses to provide the opportunity for passengers to take their bicycle along for the commute. The almost 5 miles of segregated bikeway along the corridor was implemented to comply with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) commitments. For operational costs, ConnDOT tapped Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) funds.

 

Community Outreach
Substantial community outreach efforts were made as part of the planning phase of CTFastrak
The service plan was even changed after input from customers, since all connections people were looking to make required transfers.

The BRT system has developed partnerships with large employment centers such as Aetna Health Insurance, shopping centers for parking lease agreements, promotional strategies with CT State University, and the newly constructed Dunkin’ Donuts Park stadium, home to the minor league baseball team the Yard Goats.

 

BRT Standard Scoring and Planned Improvements
The CTFastrak BRT scored a Silver Standard in May 2016, losing points for lack of fare collection optimization, center-aligned stations, pavement quality and safety, and station comfort that has recently been addressed with seasonal heating. CTFastrak has been planning improvements; particularly to the signalization in the Downtown area where buses could gain preemption, as well as an upgraded fare collection system that would provide discounts through fare capping for lower income riders to improve equitable access along the Hartford–New Britain corridor.

Governor Malloy has planned another $1 trillion in spending on transport over the next 30 years to make mobility improvements part of his legacy.

ITDP originally reported on CTFastrak last year.  See the blog post here.

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